A showdown is looming between Jordan’s government and the Islamist opposition, with two massive rival demonstrations slated for Friday in the capital Amman, raising fears of an escalation of tension.
According to organisers, around 200,000 supporters of King Abdullah II’s plans for reforms will rub shoulders with an expected 50,000 backers of the Muslim Brotherhood, the main opposition bloc, with the rallies set to take place at the same time at the same location.
“Our demonstration will be peaceful and civilised,” said Zaki Bani Rashid, a Brotherhood official, reiterating the group’s demands for a “fair electoral law, a serious fight against corruption and constitutional reforms.”
“We will not challenge anyone, and we will not provoke anyone,” he added.
He dismissed as “provocative rumours” claims that the rally would call for the king to leave power, blaming “suspicious parties who want to spark a crisis.”
“We must stop demonising the Islamist movement, and stop inciting it.”
In response to a protest movement that has since January 2011 called for political and economic reforms, King Abdullah II has announced elections due to take place before the end of the year.
The Muslim Brotherhood, however, has said it will boycott the polls as they did in 2010, to protest a lack of reform, arguing that the electoral system favours rural regions seen as loyal to the government.
They have instead called for a parliamentary system where the prime minister is elected, rather than appointed by the king. They have not called for the king to leave power.
The demonstration, dubbed “The Friday of the country’s salvation,” has called for Islamists to march from the Al-Husseini mosque after midday prayers to Al-Nakhil Square, about a kilometre (half a mile) away.
At the same time, around 200,000 people are expected to attend a rally to “support the king’s reform plans,” said Jihad al-Sheikh, one of the organisers of the rival demonstration which is being held under the banner “Allegiance and Belonging.”
Demonstrators will wear hats and T-shirts bearing photos of the king, and will be ferried from various parts of Jordan to Al-Nakhil Square aboard more than 100 buses, Sheikh said.
“The goals of the Muslim Brotherhood demonstration are questionable,” he said.
“They are looking for a confrontation, and anyone who supports the interests of Jordan should face them.”
According to analysts, the pro-government rally is an attempt to undermine the opposition.
“This time, it is not just about a show of force, but an attempt to crush the other side and that is dangerous,” said Oraib al-Rintawi, the head of the Al-Quds Centre for Political Studies.
“The Islamists have led several peaceful rallies that have been within the framework of the law” and Friday “will not be an exception,” he said.
Rintawi dismissed “rumours that the Brothers want to get into a confrontation with the police.”
Labib Qimhawi, another political analyst, concurred: “This is an attempt to break the opposition. The choice of the same place at the same time for a counter-demonstration aims to create a crisis.”
He accused “the government of trying to enflame the situation with a strong media campaign against the Muslim Brotherhood.”
“It is also possible that the interior minister bans both demonstrations, pointing to the risk of violence, when in fact he wants to ban the Brotherhood protest,” Qimhawi said.
Another possibility that risks raising tensions is a potential “absence of security forces on the streets,” as has been mooted by government newspaper Al-Rai, which noted that security forces fear being pitted by one side against the other.
According to Qimhawi, “the threat of such an absence is a call for chaos and confrontation.”
In a statement on Wednesday, Jordan’s head of public security, General Hazza al-Majali, said his forces would ensure the safety of the protesters and called on the organisers to “cooperate” with the police.